‘The Warning’ (‘El Aviso’): Film Review | Miami Film Festival 2018

Slickly packaged but unsatisfying.

This time-hopping, mathematical mystery confirms Daniel Calparsoro as one of Spain’s leading imitators of Hollywood thriller models.

One of those thrillers that sets itself some tricky problems early on and fails to successfully solve them later, Daniel Calparsoro’s math-based The Warning nevertheless knows exactly which buttons to press, and is an enjoyably undemanding ride for most of its length. As a director, Calparsoro has repeatedly promised to deliver something special, but has never quite delivered: The Warning, whose final third makes logical sense, but relies too heavily on unlikely coincidence, continues that trend. But there’s still enough cleverness and panache here to secure some offshore interest.

The first third promises high-quality (if deja vu) entertainment. Math-obsessed, pill-popping Jon (Raul Arevalo) witnesses the shooting of his buddy Pablo (Aitor Luna), soon to be married to Andrea (Belen Cuesta), at a gas station where much of the action will take place. Pablo will languish in a hospital for most of the film’s length. Meanwhile, from old newspapers, Jon realizes that there was a murder on the same site many years before.

By combining such mathematical variables as the dates and the number of witnesses, Jon becomes convinced that another murder is going to take place in 10 years: Unsurprisingly, he can’t find too many sympathetic listeners for his theory, even more so since he is self-medicating for schizophrenic episodes and is prone to visions of caterpillars and butterflies — the creepy crawlies of choice for the discerning filmmaker as far back as The Silence of the Lambs.

Ten years later, in the script’s attempt to shoehorn in some social crit, at the same gas station young Nico (Hugo Arbues, very strong) is being bullied by his schoolmates to go in and ask for an adult magazine. When Nico later finds a note telling him to avoid returning to the gas station because he’ll die if he does, his mother, Lucia (Aura Garrido), becomes convinced it’s the work of the bullies. But the note, of course, is not the work of bullies at all.

The narrative shuttles back and forth between past and present elegantly enough, the setup is satisfyingly complex, the suspense builds up nicely and the performances are solid even in roles that are less so. But after an hour or so, the plausibility cracks start to show, starting with the fact that the note that links the two time periods remains in surprisingly pristine condition after 10 years. If it did not, the plot would collapse entirely.

Interestingly, a couple of the figures involved in the making of The Warning have directed better thrillers themselves — Raul Arevalo with The Fury of a Patient Man and co-scriptwriter Patxi Amexcua with 25 Carat. The virtue of both those movies is that, unlike The Warning, they are solidly grounded in the recognizable day to day of Spanish lives. Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine another Spanish thriller director, Oriol Paulo (The Invisible Guest, $26m generated at the Chinese box office), allowing so many loose dramatic ends to make it to screen. Which suggests that Calparsoro is part of a talented genre pool in Spanish cinema, but that it’s spreading itself too thin.

Arevalo always brings a touch of class to proceedings and does so here, for as long as the script allows him. Garrido is likewise solid, but looks too young for the role. Belen Cuesta, who recently featured in the fine comedy Holy Camp, persuasively shows that she can do drama as well. Lower down the cast list are Luis Callejo and the vet Antonio Dechent, two fine actors who are underexploited by Spanish film. Between them, these talented actors bring some depth and humanity to a project that could very easily have turned out to be little more than a dramatic chess game.

Madrid is well-captured, with the city's symbolic Four Towers a looming presence in the background. DP Sergi Vilanova is clearly under instructions not to try anything new, but to go all out for that drenched 7even look: The Warning is a very rainy film, indeed, with the blurry wetness of the flashbacks functioning in too-stark contrast to the sunny present-day scenes.

Production companies: Morena Films, Tormenta Films
Cast: Raul Arevalo, Aura Garrido, Belen Cuesta, Aitor Luna, Hugo Arbues, Antonio Dechent, Luis Callejo
Director: Daniel Calparsoro
Screenwriters: Chris Sparling, Patxi Amezcua, Jorge Guerricaecehevarria, based on the novel by Paul Pen
Producer: Pedro Uriol, Cristina Zumarraga
Executive producer: Pilar Benito
Director of photography: Sergi Vilanova
Art director: Pilar Revuelta
Costume designer: Cristina Rodríguez
Editor: Antonio Frutos
Composer: Julio de la Rosa
Sales: Film Factory

92 minutes